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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE (1955)

After splitting with M-G-M, his home studio for more than two decades, Clark Gable moved to 20th/Fox for this overseas adventure (‘the CinemaScope camera takes you to Hong Kong!’) & a Western follow-up, THE TALL MEN/’55. Both were shot by Leo Tover, but for some reason, SOLDIER's print quality is much the fresher of the two in their recent DVD restoration. And a good thing, since in every other way, this is the less interesting project. A standard issue rescue tale, it stars Susan Hayward as a stubborn wife who falls hard for Gable’s shady expatriate businessman who she reluctantly hires when her journalist hubby (Gene Barry) goes missing in mainland China. Hayward, not quite ‘hubba-hubba’ enough to pull off the part, did all her shooting in Hollywood, but everyone else is really in Hong Kong, at least for the exteriors. Edward Dmytrk, who did his best work earlier in his career helming modest noirs, keeps things moving confidently, if without too much excitement. But he’s stuck with Ernest Gann’s adaptation of his own novel which never takes more than one step at a time. Gene Barry’s captors are a tame & slow-moving bunch, and poor Michael Rennie’s British liaison officer might as well have been abducted since he disappears for most of the pic. (Too much competition for the aging Gable?) Worst of all are some excruciating scenes in an 'ex-pat' Irish Pub. Dmytrk appears to have shot these scenes with his eyes closed. And who’s to blame him.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: From the same year, John Wayne’s anti-Commie Chinese adventure BLOOD ALLEY, helmed by Wm Wellman & co-starring Lauren Bacall, has a lot more juice to it.

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